The team stayed first in Santa Monica and then at the Rose Bowl-assigned team hotel near Beverly Hills. But its assigned practice facility was the Lowe's Center in Carson. Even with a police escort, the trips typically took at least 40 minutes each way.
This year, as 10-2 Penn State prepares to face 9-3 LSU in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, the practice facility setup is much better. In fact, it allowed the Lions to get back into an old-tradition -- two-a-days in the sun.
PSU spent the first five days of this trip in Daytona Beach and practiced at Seabreeze High near the team hotel. Two of those days featured double-sessions. A third included a scrimmage.
Everybody thinks a bowl game is vacation, but it's far from it, All-American defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. The first two days here we had two-a-days. I can't remember the last time we had two-a-days for a bowl. It was probably in Tampa for the Outback (in 2006). But we won that game against an SEC opponent (Tennessee), and this is just following suit.
Though he missed the Rose Bowl due to a knee injury, All-Big Ten linebacker Sean Lee was on the trip, serving as a student assistant coach. And that meant he could only look on as the Lions were flat at the start of the game, falling into a three-touchdown deficit and never recovering.
He thought part of the problem was the fact that PSU had not played a game since its regular season wrapped in mid-November while USC played into December. Two-a-days could have helped in that regard, but they just were not feasible in Los Angeles.
When you're planning out the day -- driving back and forth, back and forth - we would have had to wake up around 8 a.m. and then wouldn't have gotten done until 5 or 6 o'clock, Lee said. Guys would have been worn out.
But the double-sessions were back this year.
There's less teaching and more hitting, Odrick said with a smile. It's definitely fun. The one day it got up to 80 degrees in practice, so it was a change coming from two feet of snow. But it helped prepare us for the game and the temperatures we might be facing.
On the days with double-sessions, the morning practices were held in tops, or shoulder pads and helmets with shorts. Most of the teaching was done in the morning, as well as special-teams work. The afternoon practices were in full pads and included a lot of hitting.
And not just between the starters and foreign team, as is the case during the regular season.
A lot of the coaches kept pushing for the first-team offense and defense to go against each other, just so we could get the game speed back, Lee said. You can practice against the scout team all you want. But until you get into a game, you're not used to that speed.
In the scrimmage, the first-teamers would go against each other for a series of plays. Then the second-teamers would go against each other. Then the first-teamers were back and so on. The team also worked on specific game situations, such as short-yardage.
That was real important so we could get back in the groove, back into contact, quarterback Daryll Clark said. It was needed. And it started to take a toll on our bodies. We started to get sore. It felt like preseason camp all over again.
The team arrived in Orlando Dec. 24, had a holiday party that evening at its Orlando headquarters (The Peabody), then was given off Christmas Day and Dec. 26. It took to the practice field again Sunday, this time at Freedom High only four miles away from the hotel.
With the matchup with LSU now five days away, the Lions are officially in game-week mode, with Sunday's single practice session being similar to a Monday practice during the regular season.
One thing that has not changed from last season, though, is a long layoff between the end of the regular season and the bowl. This year the Lions wrapped with a 42-14 win at Michigan State Nov. 21.
But Lee insists Penn State is better prepared to handle the break this year thanks to the double-sessions.
When you get out of it and don't play for a while, you have to find a way to get your body back into shape, he said.